On a recent Thursday I found myself on the wrong side of Leonora and 4th as the 2.29 pm 554 Sound Transit Express was loading for Issaquah. Not risking dashing across two red pedestrian red lights I watched the bus depart knowing that the next trip was due at 2.46 pm. When I did get across I encountered about four others who had also just missed the bus including a rather irate lady who claimed that the driver left about 1 minute early. I didn’t really worry; my watch suggested that the bus may have been a few seconds early and I still might not have got across the street if I did have 15-30 seconds more time.
However, 2.46 pm came and went and it was not until just after 3.00 pm when what was presumably the 2.58 pm journey pulled in. By this time around 20 people were waiting and we all boarded. The bus turned into 2nd Avenue and proceeded very slowly in heavy traffic. At each of the various stops along 2nd about 20-30 more passengers joined and the inside became crammed with standing passengers. The driver then announced that she had contacted the “authorities” and stated that she was “overloaded” and was not going to pick up anybody at 5th and Jackson and would those wishing to get off go to the rear door. At the stop the rear door was opened, but not the front door; one or two people got off, but about half a dozen of the crowd waiting to board did manage to surge through the back door. The rest were left standing for at least another 15 minutes (some of whom had probably already been waiting for around 30 minutes) in the 95-degree heat.
About 1 week later I travelled to Eastgate from Issaquah on the 555 hoping to make a very tight transfer to the 5.23 pm 240 heading towards Renton. The 555 was running perhaps a minute early and made a slow entry into the park and ride. I didn’t see any sign of the 240, so assumed that I was going to catch it. On leaving the 555 I went over to Bay 2 to wait for the 240 and arrived there almost exactly at 5.23 pm. There were a good number of riders waiting. Time went by and all the other routes served at Bay 2 pulled up and passengers boarded. I noticed that there were at least four or five people who did not board any of the other routes, but it became apparent that the 5.23 pm did not seem to be running. At close to 6.00 pm the 5.53 pm 240 arrived and, as I suspected, several others who were at the Bay before me were also waiting for the 240. So if the 5.23 pm did run it must have been very early.
As we drove through the Factoria commercial district many passengers boarded at the stops and soon it was another overloaded situation with standing passengers crammed against each other. So almost certainly the previous trip did not run.
Of course a certain number of cancelled trips is inevitable; perhaps there are staff shortages and sometimes units develop mechanical problems. I notice that the King County Metro Twitter feed often announces a cancelled trip. I don’t follow Sound Transit tweets, so I don’t know whether they also announce cancelled trips via Twitter, but have noticed that King County Metro’s cancellations seem to cover only journeys to/from Seattle downtown. I haven’t noticed routes like the 240 having cancellation tweets. I do suggest that better customer relations are needed. Why can’t the bus operator be asked to apologize to passengers for the cancellation of the previous trip, especially if many passengers are forced to stand. In the case of the 554 above, the trip after mine should also have had an apology announced as passengers were left behind on the trip after the cancellation.
The Sound Transit driver on the 554 played several recorded announcements. One was to request those standing to move down allowing some room for those trying to join. These announcements do not always encourage everybody to try to move back, raising questions about lack of courtesy as it should be obvious that standing near to the front door is blocking access to standing room (and even sometimes empty seats) at the rear of the bus. Another announcement played at every stop from Mercer Island onwards was to request those who got on at the rear door to come to the front to pay. I didn’t see anybody do this and at the final stop, Issaquah Park and Ride, there was even the threat that Ticket Inspectors were awaiting our arrival. This turned out to be completely bogus as I didn’t see any sign of an inspection. Perhaps those who got on at the rear had passes or transfers.
A further example of passenger discourtesy is that it seems to be quite commonplace (especially on the bench seats at rear and middle of buses) to place a baggage item on the place next to where sitting and fail to remove it even when passengers are standing. This is also a common practice on Sounder commuter trains and seems to be a tactic to keep the seat next to you clear. Unfortunately, all too often this works as not everybody feels comfortable asking the offender if they would allow him/her to take a seat. Perhaps even worse when the bus is lightly loaded a few passengers put their feet up and rest their shoes on the seat, presumably not caring that someone will be sitting on that seat after they leave the bus. I hasten to add that these discourteous passengers (baggage and shoes on seat) are often respectable looking middle age commuters and not tear away teenagers. Perhaps these practices could be discouraged by King County Metro and Sound Transit by a note in leaflets such as “how to ride” and by occasional announcements e.g. “please remember to be courteous to other riders and do not place your bags or feet on a seat”.